Now even President Trump has disavowed any role in the granting of a controversial $300 million contract by the Puerto Rican electric company PREPA with tiny Whitefish Electric of Montana – which FEMA now says it never approved, although the contract states it the U.S. government agency did review and approve it.
FEMA says it "has significant concerns" with the PREPA-Whitefish Energy contract for power restoration in Puerto Rico. pic.twitter.com/RGJWatQ8Hq
— NBC Nightly News (@NBCNightlyNews) October 27, 2017
In a press release today, FEMA stated that “Any language in any contract between PREPA and Whitefish that states FEMA approved that contract is inaccurate.”
Now FEMA is distancing itself from the growing scandal, stating in its press release: “Based on initial review and information from PREPA, FEMA has significant concerns with how PREPA procured this contract and has not confirmed whether the contract prices are reasonable.”
The no-bid contract immediately raised red flags because it was handed with no bid to a two-year-old, two-employee firm run by friends and neighbors of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke; and the tiny company based in the home of one of the owners is backed by an investment firm that has been a big campaign donor to Trump.
Now the concern has turned to outrage as the terms of the deal have now gone public, triggering multiple investigations by Congress and the Homeland Security inspector general.
The most outrageous clauses in the contract prohibit the government from doing an audit or review the cost and profits elements of the wildly inflated labor rates until all work is completed, and a prohibition on the island’s government from holding the contractor to any kind of schedule to complete the crucial work of restoring electric on the island – which was devastated by Hurrican Maria more than a month ago.
— CBS News (@CBSNews) October 27, 2017
FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) is now saying it may not reimburse PREPA for the contract, which specified that if the U.S. government will not pay, the already bankrupt Puerto Rican utility is still on the hook for the cost.
After a meeting between PR, Whitefish and FEMA yesterday, the only thing resolved is that nothing is resolved, and there are a lot more questions to answer.
FEMA has expressed concerns about the prices being paid to Whitefish, which seems completely justified.
$300m in taxpayer money includes…
-Chinook helicopte airlift: $20,277
-S61 helicopter airlift: $15,993
-Passenger helicopter: $3,969 pic.twitter.com/9WcuyxwP3S
— Ken Klippenstein (@kenklippenstein) October 27, 2017
The average minimum wage in Puerto Rico is $7.25 per hour, and a journeyman electrical lineman makes around $40 per hour.
Under the Whitefish contract, a journeyman lineman earns $277,88 per hour, and his supervisor earns at least $100 per hour more than that.
In addition, each worker brought in by the firm gets $332.41 per day for housing and another $79.82 per day for food.
To get around the island, Whitefish provides helicopters. A small MD-500 helicopter costs Puerto Rico $4,000 per day, while a Chinook that can lift a heavier load costs around $20,000 for each hour of flight time.
As more than three-quarters of the residents of Puerto Rico suffer through their second month without electric power, it is becoming clear that there were alternatives to choosing Whitefish to do repair work on the damaged electric grid.
“Instead of activating ‘mutual aid’ arrangements with other utilities,” reports the Washington Examiner, “PREPA decided to hire Whitefish, even though other mutual aid agreemetns in Florida, Texas, and many other states have helped U.S. utilities rebuild following natural disasters.”
Zinke denies he knew about, approved or had any role in his close personal friends at Whitefish, who has employed his son in summer construction jobs, getting the contract.
What investigators should also look at is the connections between Trump and HBC Investments, the primary backer of Whitefish.
As The Daily Beast and Occupy Democrats reported, HBC principal Joe Colonnetta contributed over $100,000 to Trump during his primary and general election campaigns, and to the Republican National Committee. In addition, his wife gave another $33,400 (the maximum allowed) to the RNC in 2016 alone.
The owners of Dallas based HBC Investments which owns Whitefish, are all very long term big money GOP backers. It’s not DT. It’s GOP.
— Robert Davenport (@citynightcap) October 27, 2017
This is all fodder for the investigations and probes already underway or coming up.
Despite Trump’s boasts about how well Puerto Rico was being treated under his leadership, this scandal is an indication of how shoddy a treatment they are getting. By Trump denying any role in the Whitefish contract, he is confirming that he and his administration are not really on top of the growing crisis, which continues to cost lives and lead to new disasters, including the growth of toxic mold on damaged homes.
Puerto Rico has long been treated like a stepchild by the U.S., which has allowed American businesses to exploit the island and its workers while withholding the benefits of being American citizens that flow to the 50 states.
Trump has just ramped up the injustice, and blatant racism toward the Hispanic population, by our racist president and his disorganized administration.
The people of Puerto Rico and all Americans deserve better.